Saturday night was both a tough loss and a missed opportunity for the Pack, failing to capitalize on a chance to pick up a big win against an upper tier conference foe in Virginia. But in losing, the Pack showed both an ability bounce back and a remarkable resiliency. The team overcame whatever exhaustion – mental and physical – lingered from its loss to Carolina to battle back from a second-half deficit to the Cavaliers and nearly pull out a win.
A putback by Mike Scott gave the Cavs a nine-point lead with 16 minutes left, and the Pack battled back over the next four minutes to cut it down to one-point game. Then Richard Howell picked up his fourth foul and the Cavs pulled away again, getting the lead to double digits with 6:37 left on the clock. With Virginia's defense, a 10-point lead seemed insurmountable. But the Pack fought back, didn't allow a field goal for the rest of the game, and came within a few inches of a remarkable win. The comeback showed a lot of heart, even if the Pack came away with a loss.
Virginia entered Saturday's contest as the best defensive rebounding team in the country. By Sunday morning, they had dropped all the way to fifth. NC State dominated the boards all night against the Cavs, grabbing 47 percent of its own misses – its best offensive rebounding performance of the year – while also getting 80 percent of Virginia's misses.
Richard Howell was obviously the biggest reason why... the Cavaliers had no answer for his size and strength and no one that was matching his ferociousness on the boards. But C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and even Scott Wood all had multiple offensive rebounds on the night as well.
The Final Play
Call it good defense, call it poor execution on the part of the Pack – the final few seconds on Saturday night were not fun to watch for Pack fans. Gottfried said after the game that it's a gut call whether he sets up a play or just lets the offense run. On this instance he chose to call the timeout and get his guys over to set up a play. The idea was to get Lorenzo Brown into the lane and let him create – which certainly sounds good on paper.
The issue was that Virginia's defense did a great job of hedging on DeShawn Painter's screen, and Brown had the ball at the top of the key with nowhere to go and time ticking away. Sensing that he was running out of time, Brown took a step-back 3-pointer that clanked off the rim as the time expired.
Virginia was on fire in the first half from the floor, a combination of hot shooting and some shaky defense by the Pack. Sammy Zeglinski, who had struggled since the start of league play with his shot, found his stroke on Virginia's first possession of the game and finished with four 3s on the night. Mike Scott showed off the skills that make him an ACC Player of the Year candidate, hitting some tough turnaround jumpers.
The defense wasn't bad at any point, but it gave Virginia's shooters just enough room to hit 60 percent of their shots in the first 20 minutes. The Pack also struggled in the turnover department, forcing just four in the first half before forcing seven in the second half as part of its comeback. The Cavaliers used rode their hot shooting to a seven-point lead at the half that the Pack spent the rest of the night trying to overcome.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Without a question it was Richard Howell, who simply manhandled the Cavalier front court on the glass all night. If not for foul trouble, and eventually fouling out, Howell would have probably ended up with 20 rebounds on the night. In just 28 minutes of action he finished with 11 points and 18 boards, as well as three steals. His one weakness was that the line, where he hit just 3-of-7 free throws, a mark that would come back to haunt the Pack late in the game.
"Our team all year has competed really hard and tonight our kids competed with everything they had. They were spent in the locker room, and that's why my heart aches for my guys."